Posthumous Awards for the Manipuri War Heroes: The Right Track

/ Guest Column / Friday, 27 August 2021 18:56

Tom Chongtha
Introduction: The Anglo-Manipur War 1891 started in the wee-hours of 24 March 1891 at Kangla Palace and ended in the evening of 25 April 1891 at Khongjom. The battles at Kangla, Thoubal Athokpam, Kakching Manao Ching and Khongjom were the severest ones though there were several other battles. A brief sketch of the battles may be summed up as follows:
Kangla Palace Battle:
In the early morning of 24 March, to capture Yubraj Tekendrajit Bir Singh, 190 British sepoys under the command of Col. Skene attacked the residence of the Yubraj and in the process, mercilessly murdered hundreds of innocent civilians including women and children. The Manipuri soldiers also retaliated sharply. Lieutenant Brackenbury, who led the attack with 30 sepoys from the northern gate of Kangla, and several of his sepoys were killed in the fight. Only a few of his force escaped in driblets. On our side, Pukhranba Tangko was martyred in the hand-to-hand fight.
The enemy also set ablaze the houses of three villages namely Usham Leikai, Yambem Leikai and Saikhom Leikai and killed innocent civilians. Khumbong Subedar, Leishang Jemadar, Athokpam Dewan and Chongtha Mia drove the enemy out but the first three soldiers were martyred. Besides, some sentries of the western gate of the palace were also killed at their post.
At midday, the enemy realized that the attacker was attacked. Therefore, they started to retreat and by the evening they were compelled to sound a truce bugle. A team of five British officers and a native bugler led by Mr. Quinton, the then Chief Commissioner of Assam came to Kangla for a negotiation. However, the meeting ended abruptly as there was no can be brought. When the British officers got up to go away there was a great shouting from a large crowd whose kith and kin had been murdered by the British. The mob shut the gate and attacked the officers in which Mr. Grimwood was speared to death. Eventually, the Top Guard sentenced all the officers to death and handed them over to the executioners.
The Manipuri soldiers resumed their attack on the residency. Continuous shelling made the residency collapse and it was turned into ashes. There were 500 British sepoys in Manipur at that time. The survivors screaming fled helter-skelter. Sixty of them, completely frightened, ran into the villages and were arrested. This battle was a success for the Manipuris.
Battle of Athokpam:
Considering the five British officers still alive, a rescue troop composed of eighty sepoys led by Lieutenant Grant advanced to Manipur from Tamu. When he reached Thoubal on the 31st March, he was resisted by the Manipuri soldiers under the command of Chongtha Aya Purel Major. There was a severe fight in which 20 Manipuri soldiers died. The enemy sepoys then hid themselves in a fort abandoned by the Manipuris. The enemy surrounded by the Manipuri soldiers remained hiding in the fort for more than a week. And finally on the 9th April, they fled taking advantage of the darkness of the rainy night. This battle too was a success for theManipuris though we lost Yaiskul Lakpa (Haojou Macha Major) and his son Sanahal Senggoisana.
Battle of Kakching Manaoching:
About thirty Manipuri soldiers under the command of Wangkhei Meiraba, Poila (Captain) were sent to attack the enemy camp stationed at Palel from the rear. The troop reached Kakching Chomlangpat in the morning of 23 April, the enemy numbering about 150 under Major Leslie ambushed them. Seventeen of them including Wangkhei Miraba were martyred and two were taken as prisoners. The other survivors escaped.
Battle of Khongjom:
Another troop composed of about 400 soldiers under the command of Major Chongtha Mia were also sent to attack Palel from the front. However, when they reached Khongjom, the locality informed them that the roads and surrounding hills had already been occupied by the British forces. As such, they had to build a fort there to resist the advancing enemy. On the 25th April, the enemy’s guns positioned on the top of a hill poured 47 shells into the Manipuri fort. Almost all the Manipuri soldiers were martyred instantly. The enemy who had been surrounding the fort, started entering the fort in a hand to hand fight. In that fight, the Manipuris lost about 300 bravehearts. Major Chongtha Mia, the commander, got three bullet wounds of which the one on the chest passed through the back leaving a large hole.
Conclusion:
Lieutenant Grant who boasted of rescuing the British officers could not even reach Imphal where the prisoners were thought to be imprisoned. He fled for his life from Thoubal, 20 km from Imphal. However, he became a Superhero in his country and achieved the prestigious Victoria Cross. Those officers who were involved in the battle of Khongjom were also awarded the Victoria Cross and Distinguished Service Order.
On the contrary, none remembers our bravehearts who had laid down their lives for their motherland Manipur and who had received massive injuries. No stone graves have been erected in honour of them. No medals were awarded so far.
The writer thinks that it is the foremost duty of the descendents of these heroes, who had made supreme sacrifices for the nation, to honour them by awarding medals for bravery and sacrifice though posthumously and erecting stones graves for each of the heroes in the battlefield where they reposed.

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